The Irving Society Newsletter No 67


Michael Kilgarriff

Richard Briers
Richard Briers

Few of our members can have evinced so fierce a devotion to HI as Richard Briers. We saw him lay the annual wreath at the Irving statue with the utmost reverence, we heard him spe ak with wit and insight at our Annual Dinners and at the 2007 AGM; he unveiled the plaque at the Irving birthplace, he was for many years a trustee of The Henry Irving Foundation, and he helped clean up the Brodribb family grave in Bristol. In the 1995 film In The Bleak Midwinter he gave a brief but startlingly recognisable snapshot of the Guv’nor, and in 2009 most ably and knowledgeably chaired the discussion at the Cottesloe Theatre of Sir Michael Holroyd’s A Strange Eventful History.

Richard Briers as Mathias, Liverpool PlayhouseIn 2005 he and Annie attended the University of Leicester Irving Centenary conference, where it was pointed out that he enjoyed the rare distinction of having played four of his idol’s most celebrated roles: Richard III, King Lear, Hamlet, and, of course, Mathias in The Bells.  (see photo right).

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A report by our Vice-Chair, Alex Bisset, on the Celebration of Dickie’s life and work staged at the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus, last April will appear in the August edition of First Knight.


Last February’s First Knight included Jack Windsor Lewis’s highly technical evaluation of the notorious Wolsey recording, allegedly made by Irving but prob ably not. The American speech therapist Kate DeVore has also listened to the Wolsey and compared it with the authentic Irving recording of the opening speech from Richard III, both of which can be heard on our website. Here are her thoughts:

‘It is not the same person. Granted, the difference in the microphone and recording context could invalidate much of my opinion but the timbre is simply a different voice. The pharyngea l space is different, the resonance is different. The Wolsey speaker is more quavery, giving an impression of working for it rather than just being it. He was also shaping his vocal tract differently – acoustics don’t lie. The pitch variations were comparable, but they didn’t match the expression of the text; the real one is real, the questionable one is working to make it sound real.’

So if Prof Lewis and Ms DeVore are right, who was the ‘questionable one?’


Royal Mail have issued a new series of First Class stamps depicting celebrated Britons born in 1914. These include such worthies as Sir Alec G uinness, Kenn eth More and Joan Littlewood. Why, therefore, did they turn down the Society’s suggestion in 2005 that the centenary of HI’s death be similarly recognised?

From The ERA Saturday 12 June 1886

‘There has just died at Halsetown, close to St. Ives, Cornwall, a Miss Betsey Penberthy, aged seventy-four years. She had resided in Halsetown for a number of years, and was the village schoolmistress, continuing her occupation until very recently. It was at Miss Penberthy’s school that England’s greatest actor, Mr Henry Irving, learnt his alphabet, and went from his primer to read in the bible. The old lady was always very glad and very proud to talk of her old scholar “Master Johnny Broadrib, or Mr Irving as he is ca lled now,” and was fond of stating that whenever he was in Cornwall and was within a drive of Halsetown he always paid her a visit and introduced her to his friends as “my old scho olmistress.” It was at the Bible Christian Chapel, Halsetown, it is said, that Mr Irving gave his first recitation in public.’

NB: Miss Penberthy is d escribed in Laurence Irving’s biography of HI as a ‘namesake’ of his Penberthy aun ts rather t han a rela tive.
Submitted by Alex Bisset.

The following is from a website called :

‘The name Brodribb comes from when the family lived in Some rset, wher e they took their name from the parish of Bawdrip. The place-name first appears in the Domesday Book in 1086, as Bagetrep. Further research revealed that the name is derived from the Old English terms bage and trep, which means badger and trep, respectively. It denoted a place where badgers were snared.’


Alex Bisset writes: The day trip to Bristol is on Tuesday 23 September 2014. We will meet at Bristol (Temple Meads) Station in the main entrance at 11.30am. Please arrange your own transport in advance, especially train tickets, for cheapest fares.

During the day we shall visit sit es including where Irving lived as a child with his parents for a brief period in 18 43; his father and uncle’s burial place in the Dissenters’ Chapel and nearby Portland Square to see Edward William Godwin’s house which Kate and Ellen Terry first visited as teenage actresses. We continue on to Queen’s Square and the Bristol Old Vic. Finally, we go to the church of St Mary Redcliffe which has close association with Cab ot, Handel, Southey, Coleridge and Chatterton.

We travel round Bristol on bus and foot. If you have a Senior Bus pass please bring it and travel in Bristol free. Day pa sses at reasonab le price can be purchased on the day for non-holders. An early lu nch at about 12.30pm will be booked at the Bristollian Café, 2 Picton Street, Bristol B56 5QA. They serve a variety of soft drinks, wine, beer, light snacks, etc., and you can look out of the window at the plaque on Irving’s Bristol residence in 1843. Members of the Committee who have had a light lunch there on a preliminary visit can recommend it. Make your choice and your own payment!

Some members may wish to come to Bristol on the previous day. There are some very reasonable hotels such as Premium Inns near to the Old Vic. The maximum number for the outing may be limited to 15 people. There is no cost on the part of the Irving Society or the Society for Theatre Research except for an administrative deposit of £5 (cash or cheque made out to ‘The Irving Society’) which will be returned on the day if you take the tour.

Further details will be circulated later but p lease register now with Frances Hughes – tel: 020 8992 0772 or by email at


Ellen Terry: The Painter’s Actress
10 June – 9 Nov 2014
Down Lane, Compton, Guildford, Surrey, GU3 1DQ.
Tel: 01483 813 593
For opening hours and prices of admission see

‘Every famous man of the 1 9th Century – provided he were a playgoer – has been in love with her’ – George Bernard Shaw Ellen Terry : The Pa inter’s Actress will be the first exhibition to explore how the influence of Britain’s most famous Shakespearean actress reached beyond the stage to inspire generations of visual artists. Bringing together paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and film – including material rarely or never previously exhibited – the show will trace Ellen Terry’s journey from emerging teenage starlet to cultural icon.

The exhibition is timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Ellen Terry’s marriage to the great Victorian artist George Frederic Watts (1817-1 904). Although their relationship lasted for less than a year, the artist’s paintings of his young bride have been described as ‘his most glorious visions on canvas’.


Postcard of Henry Irving and an autographed letter by him from the Queen ’s Hotel, Manchester, dated 5 December 18 91, in which he writes: ‘My dear Sir, many thanks for your very kindly letter & for the capital verses which it contained. Believe me (compressed) ever truly yrs H Irving’

This transcription of HI’s notoriously difficult handwriting is by our Queries Secret ary, Helen Smith, who also advises that the letter ‘is surely to the Stalybridge blacksmith and poet Samuel Hill – s ee the Henry Irving Correspondence website Since Stoker later replied I think this is a quick note written by Irving to a hand delivery at the hotel. Hill had sent verses previously. These survive at Str atford-upon-Avon.’

OIRO £30 t o Mr W Martin 7 Eliot Crescent, Lowaters, Hamilton ML3 6SN, Scotland


A reminder that events commemorating the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland, in which Laurence Irving and his wife Mabel Hackney were drowned, may be found on


After twelve years in post I have reluctantly decided to step down as Editor of both The Irvingite and its big brother First Knight. If you are computer-savvy and f eel that either or both jobs might suit you get in touch for full det ails (see below). MK CONTACT


Hon Sec Megan Hunter may now be emailed on, and the Editor’s new email address is His other contact details remain the same: 10 Kings Avenue, London W5 2SH. tel 020 8566 8301.

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